Clause 2

Part of Welfare Reform Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 5:00 pm on 24th February 2009.

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Photo of James Clappison James Clappison Shadow Spokesperson (Work and Pensions) 5:00 pm, 24th February 2009

Again, amendment 13 is a probing amendment, whereby we simply seek clarification of some possible legal issues. The provision concerns contracting out to welfare to work providers and their legal position—where the Secretary of State has contracted out functions to an external provider.

Amendment 21 raises the same issues in relation to contracting out in jobseekers cases. Amendment 13 deals with contracting out of work-related activity matters. Broadly, proposed new section 2G of the Social Security Administration Act 1992 will enable the Secretary of State to authorise providers to carry out functions on his behalf, while proposed new subsections (7) and (8) concern the legal position of the Secretary of State and the provider. Proposed new subsection (7) appears to provide that anything done or omitted to be done by an authorised person is to be treated as being done or omitted to be done by the Secretary of State, so it appears that legal liability for what the provider does will rest with the Secretary of State. However, proposed new subsection (8) provides that that does not apply

“for the purposes of so much of any contract made between the authorised person and the Secretary of State as relates to the exercise of the function”.

We would like some clarification of the provision’s implications. For example, is it the Government’s intention that the Secretary of State can, by contractual terms, exclude himself from liability for the actions or omissions of the provider? Can he thus exclude himself from liability under the civil law? We raise that issue to seek clarification from the Government about what proposed new subsection (8) means. Proposed new subsection (7) says one thing but proposed new subsection (8) appears to cater for an entirely different circumstance and to go in the opposite direction. In case there is any question, this is a probing amendment, however. We seek clarification, we think it right to do so when there may be a legal issue and I wait with interest to hear what the Minister has to say.